Reflections on 1991 Survivor Series – The Gravest Challenge

Change was in the air at the 1991 Survivor Series, and not just because the show was moved off Thanksgiving to the night before. Not only was the Ultimate Warrior experiment over, but Warrior himself was banished. And here comes Ric Flair coming in with the NWA title calling himself the “real world champion”. I think it’s best summed up by looking at the 10/21/1991 Superstars taping from Fort Wayne, Indiana because big things were happening:

  • Ricky Steamboat, known only as “The Dragon” in 1991 WWF, gave his notice to WWF though he was signed through early 1993. He wasn’t put into any meaningful feud so he wanted out. At the TV taping, he was asked to do jobs for the Undertaker and IRS and was fired for refusing on both.. Steamboat would turn up on Clash of the Champions 17 about a week before Survivor Series as a surprise tag partner of Dustin Rhodes against Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko. It’s probable he was able to jump to WCW because being fired nullified any non-compete in his deal.
  • Sid Justice tore his bicep and asked for Randy Savage to be his replacement in Survivor Series vs Jake Roberts’ team. Savage begged to be reinstated on a Funeral Parlor segment so he could repay Sid for helping him at his wedding reception.
  • I should note that these episodes all aired in November before Survivor Series. November is “sweeps” month in the United States, where TV ratings are used to set advertising rates in the future. So the WWF was going for broke with hot angles.
  • Slick was phased out after a five year run, with his remaining charges transferred to Harvey Wippleman. That’s a downgrade. Slick never got to manage a champion, though this was an era with fewer title belts.
  • Ric Flair “injured” Jim Neidhart causing him to miss the Survivor Series, with an assist to the Beverly Brothers.
  • The greatest single non-Piper’s Pit interview segment in WWF history: the Funeral Parlor with guest WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, who is confronted by Ric Flair. The Nature Boy cuts an incredible promo on the Hulkster.

That’s six WWE Hall of Famers in one segment if you count Undertaker. Please note the great callback to the 1987 Piper’s Pit with Andre the Giant; the Undertaker rips the crucifix off Hogan.

  • By the time this aired in mid-November, WCW had won an injunction in clumsy fashion preventing WWF from showing the belt, which is why it is pixelated out on many outlets including the PPV. This did set a legal precedent that the belt is intellectual property of the promotion which wouldn’t stop Bischoff and Madusa in 1995.
  • Oh yes. And Jake Roberts had a King Cobra gnaw on Randy Savage’s arm too. Riveting shit. Vince McMahon is losing his shit on commentary and they are showing kids openly bawling in the crowd.
  • The snake died a short time later, causing Macho Man to note that maybe he poisoned the snake instead of the other way around.
  • That is how the PPV opened, with footage of the snake attack as a means of explaining why Savage wouldn’t be wrestling and that Jake had been suspended.

In case you’re wondering what PeTA thought, they weren’t as much of a force in 1991.

  • Match #1: Team Flair vs Team Piper (Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Virgil, British Bulldog)
  • Onto the show itself, the first team out is Flair’s which consists of:
    • Ted DiBiase: who had just regained the Million Dollar Belt from Virgil at the Survivor Series Showdown that aired on the USA Network a short time before the PPV. He got some help from the debuting Repo Man.
    • Warlord: Now with Harvey Wippleman, still feuding with British Bulldog as always.
    • The Mountie: Still recovering from his loss in a Jailhouse Match at Summerslam to the Big Bossman, he was in a feud with IC Champion Bret Hart. One of the “sweeps” angles they ran was Mountie throwing water on Bret and shocking him with the cattle prod complete with the sound effects over the PA.
    • Ric Flair: The only distinction between WWF Flair and WCW Flair was he did not wear suits for Vince. He would come out in his robe at all times.
  • 20151125_184809Flair has a belt, but there is a black dot over it per the aforementioned court order. It makes it look like Flair is flashing the crowd, which is not all that inconceivable. That thought plus his teammates clapping in the background makes it particularly funny.
  • Sensational Sherri gets dragged into the ring early on. The referee STARTS LAYING A FIVE COUNT like this is just an ordinary thing.
  • Ted DiBiase is audibly heard calling a spot (“reverse charge”) which I only point out to highlight how rare this was for the time period. Again Ted is in there with Bret, just taunting me. DiBiase as a singles wrestler was about to come to an end in early 1992.
  • Bulldog actually gets pinned first, kind of a shocker since he was fairly well protected and with Virgil just sitting there. Warlord was the next guy out in very similar fashion, proving that workout buddies Warlord and Bulldog did everything together.
  • This match is known for the screwy finish, with the “everyone in the ring is DQ’d” ruling. Flair was tossed to the floor just before that, so he wins. That’s what happens when you want to protect so many people in one match. Still a very fun match.
  • Interview on the platform with Randy Savage, who says that Elizabeth will be there for this match they are promoting for “this Tuesday in Texas” against Jake the Snake. Liz would regret showing up. At this point in the broadcast, they are stringing along the notion of “we’re checking to see if there will be TV coverage” and all that.
  • It would be an annoyance on this show, that plugging of This Tuesday in Texas. It was selling the next show before the current one was complete.
  • Match #2 Team Duggan (Hacksaw Jim Duggan, El Matador, Sgt. Slaughter, Texas Tornado) vs. Team Pathetic (Col. Mustafa, The Berzerker, Hercules, Skinner)
  • Holy crap that heel team is something else. And it could have been WORSE: Hercules was filling in for Big Bully Busick so that was actually an upgrade. All were at a low point in their career, except maybe for Skinner since he was making more money than he did in Florida and Memphis.
  • Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan do salvage things here with commentary, somewhat. Brain wonders if El Matador’s hat is actually a chihuahua. They also discuss people in the Middle East being sneaky, whatever that means. Heenan calls Matador’s new finisher “El Passo de salsa”.
  • Clean sweep for Team 1984 here. I call them that not because they support an Orwellian surveillance state (Slaughter might) but rather because you can make a valid case that every guy on that team peaked in some way in 1984. Tornado was NWA champion. Slaughter was never more popular. Duggan was the top babyface in Mid-South once Junkyard Dog left. Tito Santana was the IC champion for much of 1984.
  • “That is soooo 1991”

    Interview with Jake Roberts and his unbelievable Cosby sweater on the platform. It takes someone with huge balls to be a monster heel AND wear that sweater. Given what we now know about Bill Cosby, he was a monster the whole time in plain sight.

  • It was a great promo: “This isn’t the end. This isn’t even the beginning of the end. Yet, it is the end of the beginning”
  • Match #3 Hulk Hogan (C) vs. The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer) for the WWF World Title
  • First singles match in Survivor Series history. The Undertaker had actually worked with Hulk Hogan on the movie Suburban Commando a year earlier. Aside: I have never seen that movie. I’m told it’s okay, but I probably would like it more had I seen it in 1991 to add the nostalgia factor.
  • From my 12 year old perspective: Hogan was just old to me at this point. I still cheered him, but he looked like an old man. I had already moved onto Sid, both in WWF universe and among my wrestling figures where he was the world champion because softball didn’t exist in that dimension.
  • There is a group in the front row with a banner that said something to the effect of “Hulkamania is dead, long live the Undertaker” so I was far from alone.
  • Hogan gets in virtually no offense in this match, since Undertaker was in full no-sell zombie mode. Paul Bearer even got his shots in and he was such a key part of the package. The Undertaker wouldn’t be a good talker for another 6-7 years and Bearer was a perfect fit, much better than Brother Love would have been.
  • This match is very slow and plodding because it is Hogan selling the whole time until a Tombstone, which he no sells. This is the cue to Flair to come down to ringside. He kind of just minds his business and Hogan leaves the ring to deck him.
  • After a few screwups like the Hogan running to the wrong side to plausibly do the leg drop because Paul Bearer had to grab the leg, referee distracted and Hogan takes a Tombstone onto a chair that Flair slid into the ring. I need to clarify something that might be out there: Hogan was SELLING an injury here. There is no fucking way he got hurt on that move because it was like a $21 Uber ride between the top of his head and the chair.
  • Crowd pops HUGE for this. This anti-Hogan stuff had ALWAYS been avoided for the previous 8 years.
  • It is the first time Hogan was pinned 1-2-3 by a heel in the WWF, excluding the loss to Andre in 1988 because he did have a shoulder up. He wasn’t even pinned in any tag matches.
  • Heenan referenced Mike Utley as the paralyzed NFL player on commentary. Utley was a Detroit Lions guard who had been hurt in a game a week and a half prior. That Lions team actually made it to the NFC Championship game.
  • During the intermission interviews, Piper compares the Undertaker win to David Duke becoming President of the United States. I’m gonna leave that alone.
  • Okerlund tells us that “Jack Tunney is “caucusing” with Hulk Hogan” regarding the situation. Great use of “caucus” as a verb there. Not sure if I ever heard that on a wrestling show before or since.
  • Typhoon during his part of his team’s promo: “I’ve got some SHOCKING news!”
  • Sean Mooney interrupts Hawk of LOD during his “what a rush” bit and gets angrily admonished. Pretty funny. Wonder if that was ad-libbed.
  • Jack Tunney talks to Okerlund and sounds like a human being instead of Wrestling Commissionertron 2000: the rematch of Undertaker and Hulk Hogan will take place this Tuesday in Texas and he will be at ringside to monitor.
  • Trivia: The Undertaker defended the WWF title three times that week, all against the British Bulldog and all taking place in Canada. I covered one of those matches here.
  • Match #4: Nasty Boys and Beverly Brothers vs. Bushwhackers and Rockers
  • This is in the middle of the buildup to the Rockers split. It was really a series of incredible misunderstandings, like it was some sort of Hugh Grant romantic comedy. But with more drugs, lots more drugs.
  • Bushwhacker Butch looks like he could be Mojo Rawley’s grandpa here.
  • The Bushwhackers get eliminated, and the Rockers are left to fend for themselves but once they eliminate one Beverly, there is a miscommunication and Shawn eats a pin on the rollup.
  • Colossal screwup by Gorilla on commentary here as he’s playing it like Marty is the heel and Shawn is the face, when Michaels is the whiny bitch here. And he keeps pressing the point, which only makes it worse. Gorilla had accused Jannetty of not wanting into the match, which to anyone’s eyes was totally unfounded; Shawn wouldn’t tag him.
  • Gorilla then wonders why Shawn was leaving after he got pinned. Um, because he’s eliminated. I don’t like picking on Monsoon but holy Christ did he get lost here.
  • Match #5 Natural Disasters and I.R.S. vs. Legion of Doom and Big Bossman
  • Only three on each side since this was the Roberts and Savage spot. Funny how Jake was willing to tag with Earthquake so soon after he cruelly killed Damien, then served him up as hamburgers as a proto-Eric Cartman act. Which is funny when you consider that John Tenta became Golga in 1998 and wore a shirt with….Eric Cartman on it. We’re through the looking glass here.
  • More trivia: The last time the Legion of Doom was pinned on TV, Mike Rotunda was also on the opposing team, at Clash 6.
  • Heenan rips on the city of Detroit and Gorilla defends by saying his friend Bobo Brazil is from the city.
  • Whoever booked this show was very much into callback spots: in this one, Bossman is taken out by a briefcase shot from I.R.S. When Irwin tries again, he hits Typhoon who when gets pinned. Earthquake gets pissed and leaves, continuing the noble Bad News Brown tradition of walking out after Rick Martel did so in the finale last year.
  • Irwin tries to walk away from the LOD, but Bossman appears in the aisle to bring him back. Hawk puts him away with the Write Off….or whatever Hawk calls his clothesline off the top.
  • Oh hey, did you know that you can buy This Tuesday in Texas? Because I am going to remind you again.
  • Sean Mooney speaks for Hogan, who won’t come on camera because he is selling an injury and is not injured. Seriously, where did that story come from?
  • Okerlund is in a steamy room and here is Paul Bearer who says that the funeral for Hogan/Hulkamania will not be right away, but next Tuesday in Texas. And with that, we have confirmation that Hogan is not Jewish because in that case burial must take place within 24 hours.

Summary: This is pretty vintage WWF right here with a ton of memorable characters and moments. The Hogan match is a chore to sit through but has historical value, which seems to be a common theme. The opener is really fun despite the shitty ending. The last two matches aren’t too great unless you really care about the Rockers building to a split, and want to hear Gorilla Monsoon soil himself on play by play. I love WWF Fall 1991, so I recommend this anyway.

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